The Idea: that the universe is ''composed of an immense, or...infinite number of links ranging in hierarchical order from the meagerest kind of existents...through every possible grade up to the...highest possible kind of creature, between which and the Absolute Being the disparity was assumed to be infinite.'' Of this chain, Alexander Pope wrote thus: ''Vast chain of being! which from God began / Natures aethereal, human, angel, man / beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see / No glass can reach; from Infinite to thee / From thee to nothing...Where, one step broken, the great scale's destroy'd / From Nature's chain whatever link you strike / Tenth, or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.'' This paradigm of the chain of being pervaded poetry, philosophy, science, theology, and morality alike for centuries, and in these William James Lectures delivered in 1933, it is examined and explicated in a way that remains fresh and fascinating.
An Eighth Day View:
From later antiquity down to the close of the eighteenth century, most philosophers and men of science and, indeed, most educated men, accepted without question a traditional view of the plan and structure of the world. In this volume, which embodies the William James lectures for 1933, Arthur O. Lovejoy points out the three principles plenitude, continuity, and graduation which were combined in this conception; analyzes their origins in the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists; traces the most important of their diverse samifications in subsequent religious thought, in metaphysics, in ethics and aesthetics, and in astronomical and biological theories; and copiously illustrates the influence of the conception as a whole, and of the ideas out of which it was compounded, upon the imagination and feelings as expressed in literature.